After years of waiting and anticipation, the Paradise Group has finally launched its first and only steel boat ever, the Paradise Elegance cruise in Halong Bay.
For over half a year after joining the Paradise Group early in 2016, the team at The Paradise Today has been patiently waiting for the launching of Paradise Elegance, Halong Bay’s most luxurious steel boat ever to cruise the tranquil waters of Halong Bay. And finally, just right after the Lunar New Year holidays, the team was fortunate enough to join the second batch of passengers to ever cruise with Paradise Elegance.
It was a cloudy February morning when the team and I left Hanoi on the shuttle transfer to Tuan Chau Island, headquarters of Paradise Cruises & Hotels, where the mothership was waiting for us to arrive. All three of us, including the photographer and the journalist, were quite ecstatic on the journey that we’re about to make as some of us have never done such cruise trips before. A trip that yes, all of us would never forget for the rest of our lives.
Having been back and forth World Heritage Site Halong Bay since I first laid eyes on it back in 2011 for a volunteer program, going yet again to a Halong Bay cruise should not feel anything special to me, especially knowing the fact that I work in this industry. But this time it was different. It felt unusually thrilling. An unexpected feeling that I would get this kind of experience. Yet, there I was, feeling pumped up to see Halong Bay one more time out of the hundred times I’ve done before.
As we drive through the paddy fields and tall Vietnamese houses along the way, all we could do is just imagine the things that we would do and the places we would go to once we start our journey. Somehow it was peaceful. Just wondering what to expect eventually. I guess this is what everyone feels when they leave for Halong Bay for the very first time; so many things going on in their heads and hours of imagination until they reach their destination to board their cruise.
Three and a half hours have passed and our team and I arrived in Paradise Town, where we would wait for the cruise team to transfer us to the Paradise Elegance, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. From there, we had to wait for at least another half an hour as the crew still needs to prepare everything on board.
And finally, we were on our way to experience the Paradise Elegance firsthand. A rare opportunity that millions of people would die for just to experience it themselves. A couple of minutes have passed and we were all there, right in front of the glorious vessel, ready to embark for the second time this year, with The Paradise Today team on it. It was a privilege indeed.
Even though we’ve been on this boat a few times before it was furnished and cleaned properly, entering it this time felt a lot more surreal. There was a hint of mysteriousness and a touch of unfamiliarity running through our veins, a sensation that cannot be explained by pure logic. This was how Elegance welcomed us.
And so the journey began. We were guided by our butlers to the restaurant where we would receive our cruise briefing from the boat’s Cruise Manager, Mr. Ronald Cinco, one of Paradise Group’s bests. A father, a friend, and a witty leader, he’s been in the company greeting and taking care of guests from all over every single day for more than four years until now. Of course, I was very happy to have had him on board with us.
Throughout the afternoon, all three of us just wandered around the boat taking photos, shooting videos, and experiencing the mothership while trying to contemplate the surroundings, from the odd rock formations of limestones, the serene flow of the blue-green waters, the silhouette of the cryptic mountains, the overflowing love from the other passengers, and the unpretentious kindness of the local people on board. Everything was so perfect it all felt like a dream; like we were in a movie; or in a set of a Hollywood film for that matter; definitely something that we would all look back at one point in the distant future and possibly tell our grandchildren as a bedtime story.
The following day was a little bit more special that what I’ve expected. Upon waking up and leaving my suite, Ronald surprised me with his cheerful morning greeting and his big semi-devious smile, as if he was up to something no good. Then I figured out that he was just being silly because one of his crew members told him that only two of the guests did the Tai Chi class this morning on the sundeck.
A few hours later, though, on the way to the first and apparently the last excursion before we end our trip to Halong Bay aboard the Paradise Elegance, I was able to meet the two passengers that bravely did the Tai Chi earlier as we jumped on the same tender boat to head out to Titop Island. A middle-aged American couple travelling Vietnam and Cambodia for a couple of weeks. Nothing special about their story until they told me that they are both freelance real estate agents and they are currently based in Isla Mujeres in Mexico for over 20 years now. Quite an adventurous couple to be honest.
The whole morning spent with this couple from the Titop Island visit up to our breakfast back on board and our journey on the way back to Hanoi has been unforgettable as we shared stories of love, of heartbreaks, of our travels, our jobs, our families, our aspirations, our dreams, and the stories of being human. Every single thing and experience we could think of, we told to each other and shared without judgement nor discrimination.
As we leave the boat the next morning, together with our new-found friends from the other side of the globe, we felt a bit of sadness in our insides, that feeling of not wanting to leave yet and could wish to stay longer on the boat and just be in Halong Bay for the rest of our lives. This is what the Paradise Elegance experience did to us. It left us on the verge of wanting more and craving for more. A yearning that can only be satisfied upon our return.